Saturday, March 31, 2012

Why do I bother?

There was something so quintessentially bourgeois about my Thursday morning.

I got up, appropriately, at the time I would have started teaching: 8.15 am, giving me a lie-in of one and three quarter hours!  I started by Day of Action by making a cup of Earl Grey tea and taking it and an Internet radio to the Third Floor where I sipped my tea listening to the dulcet tones of the presenters and guests of the Today Programme.

As the sun grew in warmth I decided to put my years of English expertise to the test and I wrote a poem appropriate to the occasion.  It now follows:

(To be sung to the first part of the tune of “Lead Me O Thou Great Jehovah”
Stinking scabs deserve our loathing!
Stinking scabs deserve our hate!
Stinking scabs deservèd low life!
Stinking scabs deserve their fate!

Can you see him sitting pretty?
Safe, self-satisfied and smug,
Letting others take the action
Proudly thinking he’s no mug!


Suddenly he’s found his “ethics”
Moral codes to “do what’s right”
Pity that he can’t apply them
To a real in-house fight!


He has “higher duties” pressing
To the kids within his care
Couldn’t ever think of striking
Such a crime he could not bear.


Loss of money’s not important,
Or the frowns of management
He’s prepared to be upstanding –
But he has to pay the rent!


He has family commitments
Food to buy and kids to raise;
These are real, pressing problems –
Strikes put off for “other” days.


Days that never come for someone
Who can’t think beyond today;
Men whose fights are fought by others -
Those on strike for better pay!


Just for us the bigger picture,
Grime of politics, the fight.
Just for us the risks and struggle
And the prize for doing right.


Scabs are quick to take what’s offered,
No compunction, guilt or pause,
Strikers, though, they should remember
Won’t forget their selfish flaws!


I may be a tad childish but it did give me some pleasure, and there was something so totally bizarre about singing such a thing to the tune I have heard reverberate (and indeed help reverberate) around the National Stadium, to sing the thing sotto voce as my small votive offering to the Power of the Strike.

We had lunch out and then it was time for me to go in to Barcelona to join the procession.  Lunch was on the beach looking at hordes of children with their parents, reminding me that there were some schools which did have the strength of their convictions and did the right thing.

My plan to go into Barcelona by train was frustrated firstly by the fact that the station was closed until 4.00 pm and then secondly by discovering that the first train into Barcelona (on the strike approved minimum timetable) was at 5.30 pm – the same time as the start of the march.

Plan B meant that I drove my car into the city and at the top end of the Diagonal I met a small group of workers marching and effectively closing the road.  I think I was the only driver held up who lowered the window to give a thumbs up sign to the marchers.

I got down the length of most of the Diagonal but had to turn off before the junction with Gracia – which is where I was supposed to meet my colleagues.  I did manage to find an underground parking space and then made an unsteady and hesitant way towards the meeting point as my direct route had been frustrated by police cars blocking off certain parts of the road.

I did, eventually, get there well before time and found none of my colleagues there.  As a march of an associated union set off (the UGT) I set off with them until my nerve broke and I went back to the original meeting point to find the right union.

I never really did find them, but at least I found other people who were part of the Union the CCOO and that was good enough.  I acquired a plastic flag and a couple of stickers and I was ready to destroy the system!  Well, I walked a bit and then decided that, as I had become a statistic, it was time for me to go home.

After paying an extortionate amount for my shortish sojourn in the underground car park and making my way through road blocks to the motorway, I gained my home and entered flag-waving and filled with delight at the thousands upon thousands of people men, women and children I had seen marching peacefully towards something or other.

This was not the way that the demonstration was portrayed on the television.  They hadn’t been very many of us and we had smashed bank windows and violently threatened shopkeepers strike-breaking!

I did, I have to admit, take a few pictures of banks with broken windows and regretted having passed a branch of BBVA which had been splattered with paint without taking a lasting memento of this more than justified act of contempt!


Coming into school this morning I first looked at the substitution list and saw that all my classes had been covered by my colleagues.  Thank you very much for that act of support!  I felt strangely distanced from those colleagues – let’s fact it, most of them – who had shown themselves to be nothing neither more nor less than scabs.  I felt, more than anything that I simply didn’t fit with these people.  It is at times like this that I begin to despair.  But, this is nothing new.  How many times have I felt like that in schools in Britain!  Nothing changes.  Nothing.

I have, however, taken a photocopy of the substitution list and I will speak with the other colleagues who went on strike, to find out exactly what they want to do.  Their classes too, were covered with no expression of hesitation as far as I can tell.

The email we were sent asking if we could inform the management if we were going on strike, prefaced, as it was by a statement that the school would stay open, can now be taken as intimidation.  The school has behaved abominably and we have to decide if we take this further and report the school to the relevant authorities.  I will be all in favour of taking more action because I think it is important that the management of the school realizes that they cannot act with impunity as a completely separate entity from the rest of the world in education!

We are finally, at last, at long last coming towards the last period that I have to teach (or at least be around for) in this impossibly long term.  And, as is traditional I have been informed that the glorious weather that we have been luxuriating in inside the school will not last beyond this weekend outside the school!  Nothing changes.


I reverted to British Tourist Mode today and the first thing I did this morning was look out of the bathroom window to see if the sun was shining!  It was and I consequently spent the rest of the morning lazing on the Third Floor.

My “little rest” yesterday afternoon extended its way through the night until this bright morning.  If only the rest of the weather during this holiday could be relied on to be as good as today, it would be perfect.  But we have been told to expect a change in the weather after the weekend, so I am making the most of it.

Toni continues ill, so I went to have a start of holiday celebratory lunch alone – though it did give me the opportunity to sit in the sun, something Catalans will not do by choice!

I am still waiting for the English version of the handbook for the car and I am also hoping that there is something simple I can do to get more information on the display when a CD track is playing rather than simply the number.  This problem does seem to be intractable.  But I live in hope.

I have made my traditional list of things to do during the holiday, though this list is even more unrealistic than my usual ones!  This one includes the equivalent of writing two books and those are just the first two items on the list!

Ever the optimist.  

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

A Day To Go!

There is a nervous excitement about today as people wonder what is going to happen tomorrow.

It may be my imagination but I think people are fighting a little shy of me as they realize that I will be taking action tomorrow in defence of their conditions of service, their futures, their wages, their way of life.  One doesn’t like to overstate such selfless actions, but if the medal fits - wear it!

I have to admit that I do think much less of my colleagues for not taking part in the strike.  Though I do not think that they realize just how much less I think of them.  In the circumstances in which we find ourselves I do not see how, with honour, they can excuse their inaction.  There are unlikely to be such pressing forces to encourage their participation than these.  What the hell has to happen before my colleagues realize that they are under a very real threat and their inaction will come back to haunt them. 

Or, rather, I will be very much alive and I am more than prepared to remind them (in many and subtle ways) of the action they did not take. 

Perhaps I should Photoshop a copy of the famous First World War recruiting poster and entitle it “Colleague, what did you do in the General Strike?”  Perhaps a little too near the knuckle for some of the staff!

I continue to be amazed by the attitude of my colleagues who have done everything from wish me “good luck” to “have a nice day”!  What do they think I am doing and why?  This is not a little holiday!  Do they really think that my actions are divorced from what they can expect from employers in the future when the actions of “those that have” are going to be endorsed and strengthened by a government which is gleefully skipping along the road of employee repression!  Just what does it take to activate the social conscience of these people!

I am now stuck in the last lesson of the day while 3ESO finish off the work which has been necessary for the completion of the dossier.  Tomorrow they make their presentations – though to who is an interesting question. 

I have made it as plain as I possibly can that anyone who takes any of my pupils or my classes is actually breaking the law.  And to some I have intimated that I would be quite prepared to report the school to the requisite authorities as soon as I have information that they have infringed by Constitutional Right to Strike by taking my classes.

But now to bed with the prospect of a lie in.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Two days to the strike!

It seemed darker when I got up today than it did yesterday: surely a reflection of my depression at facing another six period day with a two hour meeting at the end of it all.

To be fair the meeting last night ended on time (so I only spent 11 hours in school rather than the 12 I had expected) though I had, ostentatiously, packed away my computer and was standing up ready to go when it was actually brought to an end.

In theory as the 3ESO are going out on a trip I should gain a free period, bringing my total teaching periods down to a full-day 5 – but no, of course not, I am taking a lesson for my colleague who is in Australia – an extended absence known in advance.  And people say absolutely nothing.  It’s shaming.  Our lack of action about blatantly unprofessional behaviour on the part of management merely encourages them to do what they have always done and get away with absolute murder.

I have noticed that the timetable for the projects has been rewritten and one of my colleagues has been put in my place for the afternoon when I am off.  Scab!

I will find out what happened to my classes when I was on strike and I will take some sort of action against the scabs.  And the school that employs them.  I am beginning to sound like a toned down, but equally ineffective King Lear threatening to do “such things!” but people have to realize that inaction is also a powerful form of action and they must be held accountable for their position.  As my mother once said when faced with cutting down the family budget, “No more mushrooms!”  I am sure that I can find some equally personal form of repayment for the lack of support.

It’s not as if my colleagues have to do anything; they simply have to refuse to do more – which is their legal right.  And of course their duty as colleagues.  Not as scabs.

The first lesson over I am now well into the second which is the cover for a colleague whose absence was known in advance.  I have now made it known to all members of the management that I regard his non-coverage by a supply teacher as a grotesque joke.  For whatever use that it apart from making me persona non grata to them!  I don’t particularly care.

My next lesson is one with two groups made into one class.  I have no intention of “teaching” them in any meaningful way, so they can continue with their projects.

Every so often I remember that there is another bloody meeting at the end of the day and a sharp pang of despair mixed with absolute hatred convulses me.

When is the last time that I read a book?  Given the enervating effect of this interminable semester I do not naturally reach for reading material.  Even my subscription to The Guardian has lapsed and I am too lackadaisical to renew it!

On the positive side Toni has managed to put some 80s songs on my new swimming mp3.  Ever since I bought the mp3 player that worked by passing the music through the bones of the side of the head I have like the idea of music while I swim.  Unfortunately the original device had a very limited storage capacity and it worked (it really did!) only when my head was submerged.  My original idea of getting to know “difficult” pieces of music while swimming had to jettisoned very quickly as the subtleties of string quartets did not make it through the waves and it was only the insistent beat of pop that was truly effective.

Replacement devices have been woefully inadequate with problems connected with every part of the machine.  I particularly dislike the earplugs that are provided with most headsets and their lack of comfort is only matched by their sheer inefficiency.

The present machine is untested, but the fact that you have to screw the earphone into the device is at least a cause for some hope that it will be waterproof.  The earphones also appear to be designed for swimming and fit more snugly than the earplugs that I currently wear.  It is all looking good.

An added feature is that the machine itself is not built into goggles or on a strap; it is designed to fit on the wearer’s own choice of goggles.  Another intelligent aspect.

It is pink though.

There was no choice and I welcome the opportunity to challenge sexist colour preconceptions. 

Or rather I welcome the opportunity to rationalize the ownership of an mp3 player whose colour would not have been my first choice.

And there is a light on it which sometimes flashes blue.

Just in case people had not noted the pink capsule on the back of my head the light flashes to catch their wandering attention.  It also lets me know what type of playback has been chosen.  Though, as it is at the back of my head what the hell am I supposed to know about it?  No, I have to conclude that the sole reason for its being there is there to draw attention to its inappropriate colour!

Argh!  I just remembered this evening’s meeting – be still my beating heart!

I have just been asked if I am going on strike and I replied in the affirmative.  I see no reason not to share this information with the pupils – but I will not discuss my actions as I feel that would be something beyond information and into the dangerous area of undue influence. One must tread carefully in such matters.  Not, again, that I truly give a damn.

Another lesson and babysitting again – though this one is slightly different because this is the group on whose projects I have been working.  At least all members of this class have their own computers and are therefore able to get on with “research” by themselves. 

Though I have to say that their powers of discrimination and the amount of time they devote to reading are both very limited so that, if they don’t get easily digested information on their specific search term at once, they give up.  This is an approach to learning that we are going to have to cope with soon or our pupils are going to be indulging in even more superficial learning, as they get older.

There is something very touching in seeing a colleague come to a decision about taking action.  Over the lunch table she found the strength to put her doubts to one side and join us.  I am sure that I will be blamed because she was sitting opposite me!  An accusation I would be happy to accept.  Now We Are Five!  That is something; certainly more than I expected – though I still don’t know how I am going to get to the demonstration!

The Meeting was The Meeting; tedious, useless and another confirmation of Sartre’s dictum that “Hell is other people.”  The meeting was scheduled to end at seven o’clock so I walked out at that time.  Enough time had been spent listening to teachers who should buy tape recorders if they want to listen to the sound of their own voices and not inflict their half-backed aperçus on the rest of us.

Another day done and another day nearer the end of the week.

Still counting!

Monday, March 26, 2012

A bad day.

Milk was the first thing and the final straw.

I cannot pretend that I woke up with any degree of joyful anticipation.  I woke up in the dark and, even though I know that the evenings will be lighter for longer in the future, I resent the hour lost by the changing of the clocks – and it is dark in the mornings.  Again.

So, starting with resentment, I confidently expected this to develop into cold fury as a result of the traditional antics of my fellow drivers but, for once, they were reasonably well behaved.  The simple thought of the forthcoming day however was enough to set my expression fixedly.

The five lessons I teach today have been expanded to six with my participation in project based learning and that, in conjunction with a lunchtime duty means that I will be “engaged” from 8.45 am to 2.45 pm solidly with one mid-morning playtime for a quick cup of tea!  

Six bloody hours virtually non-stop.  Ridiculous!  

Then another period to finish off the day and then immediately after school a vast, rambling, useless meeting.  

I have already warned Toni that my mood is going to be foul at best by the time I eventually get back home.  The only positive element in this catastrophic day that I can see is that I might make it back in something like daylight.

But let us concentrate on the negative.

As I loathe the meetings we have in this school so much I have to ensure that my car is parked as near to the meeting as possible to facilitate my swift egress.  As there are two possible meeting venues in the school which are in buildings separated by a quantity of steps it is important to choose wisely.

I parked as near as I could to the exit of the building where I assumed the meeting would be likely to take place and was rewarded by a newly posted notice giving information that confirmed my suspicions.

I established myself in the staffroom and proceeded to make my start-of-the-day cup of tea.  

And there was no milk.  


The Mark of Cain is a concept that some teachers are very familiar with.  One does not have to commit murder to get it and it is not always visible - but it exists.  

There are those people who go to the photocopier and get photocopies - while there are others of us who go to the photocopier and have to load the bloody thing with paper.  Again.  And again.  It’s the same thing with the communal stapler.  And especially with the milk in this particular staff room.

Many moons ago when I first discovered for the first time and to my utter horror that there was no milk for my cup of tea, I was told that milk was always available in one of the labyrinthine rooms in the internal structure of the building which comprises the original servants’ quarters and work rooms.  

But to find the milk is a walk down two flights of stairs and then through a collection of interconnected rooms to a metal storage unit on which the precious fluid can be found.  And find it I do – on a regular basis.  

I fail to understand why in this staffroom the milk runs out whereas in the other staff room the milk is always there in plenty.  One of the strange but true facts of school life!

Anyway, the lack of milk this morning was tantamount to a personal affront when added to the constant delight that this day promises to offer to a downcast dominie!

So it goes on.  Today, the first day of the last week of term, is also the first day with the new groups that will see me through to the end of the year.

My first class, a new group of the1ESO I was able to dazzle with my origami skills as a way to getting them writing about themselves.  Two minutes before the class started I worked out the folds that I needed to produce a wedge shaped end result which could be opened up sequentially giving a progressive revelation of skills, appearance, ability etc.  The kids loved it and worked solidly throughout the hour with the ultimate accolade of one kid expressing genuine surprise that the time was over at the end of the lesson!  It’s things like that that keep me going!

One girl after writing furiously throughout the lesson asked if she could write about her personality and, in what I think was a truly inspired moment, I told her that she had “jumped the gun” and what she was asking to write was what the last space on the two sided sheet of A4 was left for!  I further improvised that I wanted the kids to take their work home, show it to parents (translating when necessary) and then discuss what the true personality of the child was and fill in the empty space – in a different coloured pen.  

Creative duplicity in things educational at a moment’s notice is one of my specialities!  

A good lesson which I will now write up for future use.

I have told the authorities in the school that I am going on strike on Thursday.  I photocopied the information that Steve (All praise!) from my Union (CCOO) gave me and have distributed it to all members of the English department and to management.  

I now know of two other teachers who are going to take action: one in Primary and the other in Secondary.  It’s something.  Not much, but something!

The most interesting aspect of the action of course will be to see the reaction of colleagues as they realise that one of their own taking action while they are not is an implied condemnation.  Naturally.

What management will do is as predictable as it is shameful.  They will mitigate the effect of the action by collapsing classes and asking other people to take classes.  The information which I have given management makes it perfectly clear than such action is illegal and could be reported to the government as it clearly infringes my constitutional rights to strike.  If the last bit sounds a bit stilted then it is because I am quoting my union friend!  But it is true and the management I hope will take cognizance of such constraints on their possible actions.  Time will certainly tell and I will spend Friday trying to find out exactly what went on during my absence.

The colleague in Australia has not been given supply cover.  The colleague on maternity leave has not been covered by supply until after Easter, so these days leading up to the holiday are simply tough luck on those colleagues left in school.

The obvious response to a General Strike is to close the school – if only on Health & Safety grounds.  But our parents show a marked lack of enthusiasm for looking after their progeny unless they absolutely have to!

There are still three days to go before the Strike and I look forward to machinations worthy of the dear, alas dead, author of “The Prince” who, we will probably find, could have learned a trick or two from the present day employers of modern Spain as our esteemed government leads us proudly back to the good old days of El Caudillo.   Perhaps a little extreme that last thought, but not too far from the truth as the opportunity to “revise” some of the absurd employment laws is grabbed with both opportunistic hands by PP – our present corrupted government.

I suspect that there may be as many as three of us taking action in Secondary!  Believe me this is a breakthrough in rampant militantism and threatens to escalate into . . .  well, let me not lose a sense of proportion, I suppose it is better than nothing or just me.  We’ll have this place turned into a closed shop in no time.  With the emphasis on “no time” I think!

The lesson I was supposed to have with my new group Making Sense of Modern Art was cancelled with no notice and I had to take the whole class who were doing their projects.  And thanks to the new timetable, I had to do two hours with the same year group.

My present mind expanding chore is sitting with a group of 3ESO as they spend extra time on their projects.  This is not really a hardship as trying to bring them back onto the academic road last thing in a “free-ish” day is not something that I particularly want to do and, to make the bad slightly better I am doing the first half of the period and a colleague is going to do the second half giving me time to make my weary way to the other building to the site of the meeting.  But also it is nearer to the car and escape!

There is some sort of timetable for the meeting this evening and it says that the meeting ends at 7.00 pm.  I am taking that as gospel and am inclined to flounce out at the stated time – though I suppose that would look a little studied when you have just told the management that you are going on strike!

I am now fully prepared for the meeting with the only question in my mind whether or not to take in chocolate to give us some necessary energy to get through the imposition.

As a way of keeping sane I have decided to type out my comments as the meeting progresses.  I was almost caught out the last time when the deputy head asked, sweetly, if she could have a copy of my notes.  I had to explain that they were personal.  And so I kept my job!

And yes, if you can remember that far back, I did have to load the photocopier with paper when I went to use it! 

Sunday, March 25, 2012


The ability to take delight in the contemplation of seemingly insignificant things is, I am forced to conclude by reason of personal guilt in this respect, one of the attributes of a great mind.

This conclusion came to me, as is not infrequent, in the bathroom – and all because of a Christmas present.

One of my tasteful gifts was a set of various semi-liquids for the cleansing and softening of the external person.  The hand cream I must admit I used once and then promptly poured into the toilet and used the excellent empty container to put real after-sun cream in. 

The first of the other two items was a supposed shower gel which was astonishingly inefficient at its stated job, but which I thought would make an excellent hand wash especially as the supplies in the dispenser on the wash basin was getting low.  The original contents of the dispenser was a white liquid soap to which I now added the blue shower gel and gave them a jolly good shake up.  The resulting pale blue soap was pleasingly aesthetic and I thought that I had struck a blow for economy.

In the morning, of course, the liquids had separated into their distinct layers with the white being the heavier – it still looked aesthetically pleasing and gradually, as the white layer was used up the resultant soap began to the light blue of the original shaken mixture.

Use, however created space at the top of the dispenser and thus the third bottle from the Christmas gift came into operation.  This bottle looks as though it contains mashed up moss and purports to be some sort of facial scrub.  This means that the soap is augmented by a quantity of grit; the theory being that rubbing grit into one’s face removes dead skin cells.  I would have though that it would also remove living ones but, on the Euthymol Toothpaste Test (if it hurts or revolts you it must be doing you good) such cleansing masochism is quite popular.  I therefore decided to add it to the mix.

I think I know that there is a difference between “denser” and “heavier” with ice being a denser but lighter form of water than liquid water.  This facial scrub is much more macho than the white or blue cleaner.

Having squirted some of it from the bottle it looks like the sort of stuff that you could feed to babies if mashed moss and algae (with added grit) was the sort of thing that parents thought would do their sprogs good.  Alternatively, one could say that it also looks like the sort of stuff which may have come out of the other end of the neophyte humans.

Notwithstanding some initial misgivings I forced some of the stuff into the dispenser and now I have a thin opaque white layer on which a luminously transparent blue layer rests which is topped by a convoluted bulbous mass of the facial scrub looking like some revoltingly bumpy iceberg with the greater part submerged in the blue.  The facial scrub has a greater integrity than either of the other liquids and I am fascinated to see what will happen over time as gravity and physics force them into some sort of uneasy co-existence.

As you can clearly tell by the foregoing, I even more clearly need the holiday which will allow me to recharge the program in my mind which deal with priorities and be able to tell me that watching liquids separate is not conducive to academic advancement!

In a more outgoing way I went to Barcelona yesterday to meet Irene so that we could bewail our situations and set the world to rights.

We frightened ourselves with our lack of knowledge of French given the impending holiday to deepest darkest Northern France that is going to mark the beginning of the summer holiday for us.  I suspect that Irene’s “I know nothing” is not quite at the same level of truth as my assertion that the tattered remnants of my O Level in French have long since been swept away by the winds of time.  But I am still amazed that I can sometimes remember the French word for something when the Spanish equivalent remains firmly locked outside my memory.  We shall see.

Lunch was a Lebanese or Turkish concoction and made a welcome change from the food that I usually eat.

Unsurprisingly I did not adjust my clock and so I was an hour late for lunch in Terrassa.  This is made even more inexcusable when I tell you that Toni phoned up earlier in the morning and pointed out that I was probably an hour out in my calculations.  I thanked him for the information and then it left my mind as completely as the reason for having to learn how to do quadratic equations has left my brain.  Though not, interestingly, the formula for solving said equations, all of it right down to the “all over 2a” at the end, with the emphasis on “all” is sharp and clear, ready to be used if anyone could tell me how and why.

The visit to Terrassa was short and sharp (and a hour less) and I was able to go back into my car and strive for the ultimate accolade that the machine gives which is a flashing “EXCELLENT” for the quality of the “eco” drive that you have had.

As far as possible I now rely on the “cruise control” to drive the car, as the on-board computer seems to manage a more economical drive than I do with my foot on the accelerator.

I am also getting close to the first 1,000 kilometres when the car has its first check to see that everything is working properly.

Again my only complaint is with the information that the car displays when a CD is playing.  I am convinced that this is something which should be working better but we have not managed to come to terms with the detail of the instruction booklet for the TomTom which is the display heart of the system.  I will get to grips with this in the holiday because this is the only thing about the car which is not satisfactory at the moment.

Oh, and the boot which is smaller than on my previous car.  But there is something I might be able to do as there is a “floor” to the boot which can be removed revealing a sort of well and it is only underneath that well (so I am informed) that the spare tyre lurks, so it must be possible to dispense with the “floor” and make use of the increased space.  In fact I will go and do that now!

Done!  Bigger at a stroke.  If only the rest of life was that easy!

Let us not forget that next week is the last week of term.  Just to take away the pleasure from that sentence the powers that be have ordained that there will be two monster meetings on Monday and Tuesday after school.  Given the time that I get into school in the mornings this means that by the end of Wednesday I will have been in school for something over thirty-two hours!  An awful prospect!

My ever-excellent friend in the Union has sent me information for distribution to colleagues about their duties if a colleague goes on strike.  Not that I think that it will have very much effect.  Still, one should take every opportunity to encourage people to do the right thing!

And still the thrust towards project-based learning is going on, leading up to a climax when the kids make their presentations – on the day of the General Strike. 

Hey ho! such things happen.